TALLAHASSEE — The Department of Corrections, an agency notorious for cronyism, has a number of double-dippers at its highest levels.
Those who have been allowed to "retire'' and return to work drawing a salary and a monthly retirement check include at least six prison wardens and two deputy secretaries of the department.
In all last year, more than 200 DOC employees were paid more than $11.6-million in annual salaries while also drawing more than $4-million in annual retirement checks.
In tight budget times, in which the department must now eliminate 199 probation officers and 132 administrative positions, the double-dipping numbers don't sit well with rank-and-file employees or with the union that represents prison guards.
Former DOC chief James McDonough said he granted permission for the top people to double-dip because desperate times called for desperate measures.
McDonough took over a department in disarray. He was appointed to replace James V. Crosby Jr. as Crosby was heading to federal prison for taking kickbacks from prison vendors.
McDonough said he needed to allow some of the best employees to double-dip or risk losing them at a time he could ill afford to lose experienced workers he felt he could trust. More than 1,500 others left the department during the nearly two years he ran it.
"I tried to identify good strong leaders that I felt had a good ethical code and were using their experience well,'' McDonough said.
At least 14 DOC employees make more than $90,000 a year and also draw pensions from the state retirement system. Most of them also got lump-sum payments of $81,000 to $247,000 when they left the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, and returned to work.
Some retired and returned to the same jobs, where they get free health care and life insurance, a bargain-rate state-owned house and a salary.
Most of the 200 DOC double-dippers are paid less than $40,000 a year. They are among about 8,000 double-dippers on state payrolls.
"This sort of thing goes on throughout state and local government. It goes against the grain of what we have been trying to do,'' said Police Benevolent Association spokesman David Murrell. "At some point they need to retire and move on.''
Prison guards who contacted the St. Petersburg Times described the high-ranking double-dippers as just another example of "the good ole boy system'' that has run Corrections for years.
"Shifts are running short and at critical levels, while top Administrators are being taken care of with them receiving both a salary and a retire check,'' the guards said in an unsigned letter. "The Department of Corrections needs to save money the safe way, not the be good to your buddy way.''
The DOC is responsible for housing almost 100,000 prisoners and supervising more than 155,000 on parole and probation. The department has some 28,000 employees working in offices and prisons around the state.
Almost half of the DOC's 12,292 corrections officers have less than five years' experience; many are the sons and daughters of former Corrections employees, and many have married within the department, making life at the DOC something of a family affair.
Two of the top managers who retired and returned to work are George Sapp, 52, the assistant secretary in charge of institutions, and Ralph Kiessig, 61, deputy assistant secretary of administration.
Each has been at Corrections about 28 years, and they probably know more about the agency than almost anyone. McDonough allowed both to retire and return to their jobs, saying he could not have run the agency without them.
"I think we are making a difference,'' Kiessig said last week. "Maybe not as much as we want to, but we're trying to do the right things for the right reasons.''
They hope to take Corrections away from its good ol' boy, softball-playing, hard-drinking culture that marked the Crosby era and led to state and federal grand jury indictments against more than a dozen officers.
Some well-paid double-dippers are doctors and other medical experts at various prisons. That's because it's hard to find medical people to work inside institutions that house thousands of felons, say Sapp and Kiessig. The medical personnel could make more money in the private sector.
Not all of the double-dippers at Corrections earned their pensions at the agency. Two high-ranking officials in the Inspector General's Office — Walton Murphree and Douglas Stephens — took jobs at the DOC after long careers as Miami-Dade police officers.
Former Tallahassee police Chief Walt McNeil took over as DOC chief Feb. 8. He says he hopes to continue what McDonough started and build a professional team.
He fought proposed budget cuts that could have closed prisons, put guards out of work and threatened the safety of those who remained. In the end the cuts were less severe, a total of 331 positions — 199 probation officers, 132 administrative jobs — but not prison guards.
McNeil said he believes it would cost the state more to bring in new people than to keep some of the existing employees who already know the agency and its people. Though opportunities for promotion "were somewhat squashed'' as the agency worked to solve the problems of the Crosby era, McNeil said he believes opportunities for leadership will trickle down through the system.
In the past some promotion decisions were based on "who you knew,'' a tradition that McNeil promises to end.
"We were an organization that was bleeding, and McDonough made the decision to do triage and stop the bleeding,'' he said. "Now it's my responsibility to build a successful plan and make sure that the trickle takes place.''
Times computer-assisted reporting specialist Connie Humburg and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lucy Morgan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.
Top double-dippers, Department of Corrections
As of the 2006-'07 budget, more than 200 DOC employees were paid a total of more than $11.6-million in annual salaries while also drawing more than $4-million in annual retirement. Here are current salaries of the DOC's highest-paid double-dippers.
|Annual retirement||One-time DROP||Annual
Asst. secretary, Institutions
Deputy assistant secretary, Administration
|Walton C. Murphree Jr. **
Deputy inspector general
|Canh T. Nguyen
|David J. Odum
|Adro L. Johnson
Warden, Charlotte Corr. Inst.
Warden, Tomoka Corr. Inst.
Warden, Okeechobee Corr.
|Matthew J. Sapp
Warden, New River Corr. Inst.
Warden, Polk Corr. Inst.
Warden, Union Corr. Inst.
|Douglas P. Stephens **
Bureau chief, Office of Inspector General
* Did not participate in the Deferred Retirement Option Program
** Earned pension as Miami-Dade police officer
Note: Retirement benefits suspended the first year when an employee "retires'' and returns to work.
Sources: Florida Division of Retirement, Department of Corrections